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The Department of Conservation, with assistance from local kayaking company Okarito Nature Tours, aim to create a kayak trail on Okarito Lagoon as part of a major wetland restoration project.
The Glacier to Wetlands Restoration Project, funded by the Air New Zealand Environment Trust is an opportunity for ecological restoration, recreation, education and community involvement centred around the Okarito wetland system, near Franz Josef Glacier on the West Coast of the South Island. The Okarito Wetland System is the largest unmodified wetland in New Zealand, and fortunately still in comparatively good condition. Surrounded by Westland National Park, the Okarito Lagoon is bordered by ancient rimu and kahikatea rainforest that is home to New Zealand's rarest species of kiwi, the rowi.
The project will focus on removal of invasive weeds, replanting of native species, predator control of introduced pests, development of sustainable tourism and recreation opportunities, and education. Engagement of the local community will also be a major focus.
At Okarito Lagoon, an interpretational self-guided kayak trail will be established. Kayaking is a popular activity on the calm shallow waters of the lagoon. It is also a popular site for birdwatching (over 70 species have been recoded here). The kayak trail will allow paddlers to identify marked points of interest on the lagoon, and find detailed information from a lagoon guide they will carry on their kayak. The lagoon guide will also provide birdwatching information.
Richard Saunders, owner of local kayak business Okarito Nature Tours is happy to assist the Department of Conservation in this initiative. "The kayak guide is sort of an extension of what we have provided for our freedom rental kayak customers for a number of years. However this will make it easier for visitors with their own kayaks to fully appreciate all features of the lagoon - its geological features, biodiversity, human history, and threats. We see it as vital for this information to be shared with all lagoon users."
The Glacier To Wetlands Project has already passed some major milestones. A community nursery has been established in the village of Okarito, and seed for replanting has been propagated. Also stockproof fencing has been erected at lake Wahapo, upstream of Okarito. This has required some ingenuity to overcome problems caused by frequent flooding of the braided river that flows into the lake.
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